Disgustipated’s review published on Letterboxd:
The moment we are invited to enter the decrepit and dilapidated boarding school that forms the central location of this film, the relentless descent into graphic violence and regressive depravity gains an unremitting momentum that spirals towards the film's brutally confronting conclusion.
Besides the content of this film, it's form is also very challenging. Director, Slaboshpitsky has also made a deliberate decision to not include a single spoken word throughout the almost two-and-a-half hour duration of this film. The majority of the characters are in fact deaf and dumb and therefore do not speak. Unprecedented, as far as I am aware, Ukrainian sing-language is the only language used throughout the film and there is not a single sub-title to help along the way.
I read somewhere that this design was partly to place us in the shoes of people with these disabilities, to give us an experience that simulates what it must be like for these people, to make us more carefully consider our preconceived notions and assumptions about what it would be like to not be able to speak or hear. I have heard counter-arguments that this is an unfair conceit as even deaf people have closed captions to let them know what the characters on the screen are saying.
However, this misses the point. There are no closed captions in real life. Deaf people do not know what we are saying when we speak without sign-language. In that context, it does give you pause for thought and causes us to reflect on how difficult it would be to operate in a broader society that primarily utilises tools of communication that are denied to you.
Having said all that, while it may require patience and a high tolerance for ambiguity, the methods of communication that are employed in this film convey a startling, impressionistic comprehension of what is going on, which makes up for any loss in clarity and precision by packing a visceral, emotional wallop. These characters have mastered the art of communicating with their hands, their bodies and their facial features resulting in an explosive and punctuated rhythm of violent gestures and vehement countenances.
Which brings me to my next topic. This film is fucking brutal. The graphic violence in this film makes "Irreversible" look like a romantic comedy. In real life, I find violence deplorable and I have a weak stomach for it, but on the screen I thought I was completely inured to it. And then this movie came along. There are two scenes in this film in particular that left me reeling as though my brain had been raped. I am not going to describe them or discuss them further, I will leave them well enough enough alone so that they may ambush you if you ever watch the film.
Slaboshpitsky has certainly gone out of his way to ensure that this film is not easy on us. He has intensified the uneasiness factor by using strategically chosen long takes that occur at just the right moment during key scenes to maximise our discomfort as much as humanly possible. In addition, the settings for this film
are all so bleak and miserable from the aforementioned boarding school to the snow-covered cold nights of the trucking yard where young prostitutes ply their trade from one truck cab to the next. And while there might not be speech anywhere in this film, sound plays a crucial and pivotal role as a plot device in several key scenes generating moments of indescribable horror.
At first, I wished I had never seen this infernal film. I wanted to scratch it from my eyeballs. It was that shocking, and this is coming from the guy who insisted on reading the entirety of De Sade's 120 Days of Sodom on principle. Now that I have taken a step back from it I can still see that it was an experience that was not entirely without its merits. My reaction to it has certainly made me to start to think more about my understanding of people that are unable to hear or speak, and I now find myself more engaged in the discussion about representations of graphic violence and sex on the screen. Besides, nobody ever said you have to enjoy a film for it to be good.